Step back in time and see Sydney as it once was

Revisit Sydney’s past at History Week through a series of free events.

As part of History Week (31 August to 8 September) 2019, you can take a trip down memory lane and explore Sydney as it was last century.

From visions of our early city to tales of gothic horror, free events explore the theme ‘memory and landscapes’. And a specially developed app will show you the city as it was in 1861.

Stranger’s Guide to Sydney in 1861

Culture Walks app – available to download from Monday 26 August 2019

A Sydney guidebook produced and published in 1861 by James Waugh has been recreated in the Sydney Culture Walks app. This walk has been specially curated for History Week.

George Street, looking north, 1854-1864, drawn by F. Terry; engraved by J. Tingle. Image: Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

The Stranger’s Guide to Sydney 1861 enables you to hypothetically travel back in time to explore the city as a stranger. Starting at Sydney Town Hall and ending at Customs House, the self-guided walk encounters more than 30 of the original 100 landmarks, buildings and points of interest featured in Waugh’s guide.

Contemporary watercolours, etchings and images help bring the experience to life.

Cartographica – Sydney on the map

Guided tours, Saturday 31 August and Sunday 1 September 2019
11am–12.30pm, 2.30pm–4pm
Customs House

Cartographica features a series of reproduced maps of Sydney, captured through the traditions of mapmakers. It’s a fascinating account of the factors that have shaped our city, highlighting some of the many different ways mapmakers have documented its evolution and guided our journeys.

Detail from a map of Sydney published in a popular German magazine in 1880. Image: State Library of NSW

Taking over 3 floors of Customs House, the exhibition features some early maps. Works range from charted observations of colonial exploration and the receding shoreline of Circular Quay in the 1880s, to the growing city streets in the early 1900s, digital monitoring of sharks and 3D vision of shipwrecks in the harbour.

This is the last chance to see the exhibition before it closes on Sunday 1 September.

See Sydney as a Tourist in 1905

Saturday 31 August 2019, 1pm–2pm
Level 2, Customs House

Visitors arriving in Sydney in 1905 often received a copy of a bird’s-eye-view map to guide them through the city.

Birds-eye view map of Sydney (detail). Image: Oceanic Steamship Company John Andrew and Co 1905

Curator Margaret Betteridge will use this map to investigate some of the 74 places of interest at that time, including some of the city’s lost features and others that still remain.

The Block Plans of Sydney

Sunday 1 September 2019, 1pm–2pm
Level 2, Customs House

During this illustrated talk, historian Lisa Murray will unveil detailed plans of city blocks from the 19th and 20th centuries.

H Percy Dove Plans of Sydney 1880. Image: City of Sydney Archives

The plans were prepared by insurance brokers to assess the risk, structural constitution and possible investment hazards of blocks throughout the city. Details recorded on the block plans about the buildings and their uses allow us to visualise old streetscapes and identify long-lost commercial precincts.

Memory, love and gothic horror: the evolution of the Devonshire Street cemeteries

Wednesday 4 September 2019, 12.30pm–1.15pm
Level 2, Customs House

The deathly past of the Devonshire Street cemeteries will resurface in a talk presented by historian Lisa Murray. Once the principal burial grounds for Sydney city from 1820 to 1867, the cemetery was cleared in 1901 to make way for Central railway station.

Church of England burial ground, Devonshire Street Cemetery 1901. Credit: Mrs Arthur George Foster, State Library of NSW

The talk will delve into the issues that became apparent during the final years before the closure of the cemetery, including the unruly manner in which burials were conducted. The exhumation of the cemetery revealed further anomalies, with reports that more than 5,000 bodies couldn’t be located and some bodies were discovered beneath paths and just below the surface.

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